Tobias watched Lavinia walk up the steps of Number 7 Claremont Lane and knew at once that something was very wrong. Beneath the deep brim of her stylish bonnet, her face, always a source of intense fascination for him, showed signs of an odd, brooding tension.
In his admittedly limited experience, Lavinia rarely brooded over a problem or a setback. She was more inclined to take immediate action. Much too inclined to do so, in his considered opinion. Reckless and rash were words that came to mind.
He watched her from the window of the cozy little parlor, every muscle in his body tightening with a battle-ready tension. He had no patience with premonitions and other such metaphysical nonsense, but he trusted his own hunches, especially when it came to matters concerning his new partner and lover. Lavinia looked nothing short of shaken. He knew better than most that it took a great deal to rattle her composure.
"Mrs. Lake is home," he said, glancing at the housekeeper over his shoulder.
"About time." Mrs. Chilton set down the tea tray with an air of enormous relief and bustled toward the door. "Thought she'd never get here. I'll just go and help her with her coat and gloves. She'll be wanting to pour the tea for her guests, I'm sure. Likely be looking forward to a cup herself."
From what he could see of her face in the shadow of the bonnet, Tobias had a feeling that Lavinia was more in need of a healthy dose of some of the sherry she kept in her study. But the medicinal dose of spirits would have to wait.
The guests waiting for her here in the parlor had to be dealt with first.
Lavinia paused at the front door, searching through her large reticule for her key. He could read the signs of strain around her fine eyes quite clearly now.
What the devil had happened?
During the affair of the waxwork murders a few weeks ago, he thought that he had come to know Lavinia rather well. She was not easily flustered, overset, or frightened. Indeed, in the course of his own occasionally dangerous career as an investigator, he had met very few people of either sex who were as cool in threatening circumstances as Lavinia Lake.
It would require something quite dramatic to put that grim expression in her eyes. The prickle of unease that drifted through him had a chilling effect on both his patience and his temper, neither of which was in especially good condition at the moment. He would look into this new situation just as soon as he could get Lavinia alone.
Unfortunately, that would not be for some time. Her guests appeared prepared to converse at some length. Tobias did not care for either of them. The tall, elegantly lean, fashionably attired gentleman, Dr. Howard Hudson, had introduced himself as an old friend of the family.
His wife, Celeste, was one of those extraordinarily attractive females who are only too well aware of their effect on the male of the species and not the least hesitant to use their gifts to manipulate men. Her shining blond hair was piled high on her head, and her eyes were the color of a summer sky. She wore a gossamer-thin muslin gown patterned with tiny pink roses and trimmed with pink and green ribbons. There was a small fan attached to her reticule. Tobias considered that the dress was cut quite low for such a brisk day in early spring, but he was almost certain that the deep neckline was a carefully calculated decision on Celeste's part.
In the twenty minutes he had spent with the pair, he had reached two unshakable conclusions. The first was that Dr. Howard Hudson was a charlatan. The second was that Celeste was an out-and-out adventuress. But he suspected he would do well to keep his opinions to himself. He doubted that Lavinia would welcome them.
"I am so looking forward to seeing Lavinia again," Hudson said from the chair where he reclined with languid ease. "It has been several years since we last met. I am eager to introduce her to my dear Celeste."
Excerpted from Don't Look Back by Amanda Quick Copyright 2002 by Amanda Quick. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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